Sage Karam has found only one speed bump in landing a ride in the Indianapolis 500: He can’t go to the prom.
Karam was set to bring girlfriend Anna de Ferran, daughter of 2003 Indianapolis 500 winner Gil de Ferran, to his Nazareth Area High School prom until his new job got in the way. The 19-year-old Karam, the reigning Indy Lights champion, struck a deal this week to drive the No. 22 Chevrolet in his Indianapolis 500 debut.
Qualifying is on May 17, the same day as his prom, forcing Karam to start his engine in Indianapolis instead of renting a limo in Pennsylvania.
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”I’d never been to a prom before,” he said. ”I was kind of looking forward to it. It’s a good excuse to miss it.”
Securing a ride for the ”Greatest Spectacle in Racing” from Chip Ganassi isn’t a bad graduation gift.
”I always said when I was younger, I wanted to race in the 500 my senior year,” Karam said. ”Some kids kind of laughed at that idea. Even adults. I always stuck by it. That’s what I always was going to do. Now, it’s turned into a reality. It’s a cool feeling to be 19 and know you’re going to race in the biggest race in the world.”
Karam is from Nazareth, Pa., the hometown of the Andretti family. He spent months wondering if he could parlay his feeder system championship into an IndyCar ride. He got the break he needed when he signed with Ganassi in a driver development role.
Karam will race in his first Indianapolis 500 next month in a car fielded jointly by Chip Ganassi Racing and Dreyer & Reinbold Kingdom Racing.
”I’ve worked my whole life to get to this point,” Karam said. ”To finally sign a contract with my name on it that means I’m racing in the 500, it’s an insane feeling.”
Driving for Sam Schmidt Motorsports, Karam won the Indy Lights championship, the ultimate reward for a season built on three wins, nine podiums, two poles and 163 laps led. He ditched a final year of class for online courses as he chased his open-wheel dream.
Karam ran the first two Tudor United Sports Car races with Ganassi’s organization. Ganassi plans to use Karam in the remaining endurance races. But there are no immediate plans for Karam to race in IndyCar after the 500.
”I knew if I was given the opportunity, I had to impress,” Karam said. ”It’s an awesome feeling knowing that these guys are really putting a lot of time and effort into me to groom me.”
Karam, a high school wrestler, just signed a six-month lease for a place in Carmel, Ind., and plans to absorb all he can in IndyCar’s epicenter.
Karam’s prom is on hold, but he does plan on walking with his class for the June 10 graduation ceremony, maybe with one more accessory to go with his mortarboard hat and gown.
”Hopefully, I’ve got that Indy 500 champions ring on,” he said.
MCMURRAY’S MOMENT: When Jamie McMurray won at Talladega Superspeedway last October, he got to celebrate for the first time in Victory Lane with both of his children.
”It was obviously really special for me to have both of them there,” McMurray recalled Wednesday. ”I’ve seen pictures for years of Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth and all the guys that I’ve been friends with, had pictures with their families in victory lane, and it was just a really special day. That was a great picture, one that I’ll always cherish.”
McMurray, left home alone with his 3-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter on Wednesday, had his hands full in trying to juggle daddy duties and discuss this Sunday’s return to one of the fastest tracks in NASCAR.
He’s a two-time winner at Talladega, and one of the better restrictor-plate racers in the Sprint Cup Series. McMurray also has two wins at Daytona, including the 2010 Daytona 500. The two tracks comprise four of his seven career Cup victories.
McMurray isn’t sure why he excels at either.
”I don’t really view Talladega or Daytona any different than any other track,” he said. ”I don’t know that you go there with the mindset of winning. I always go to plate tracks with the mindset of running second and pushing somebody to the win, and if the circumstances work out that you find yourself in the lead, it’s great. I think you just have to be very open-minded and willing to help more than trying to get help.”
McMurray heads into Talladega ranked 19th in the Sprint Cup standings with two top-10 finishes for Chip Ganassi Racing.
ARCA RECORD: Grant Enfinger has a chance Saturday to become the first driver in the 62-year history of the ARCA Racing Series to open the season with four consecutive victories.
Enfinger won at Salem Speedway last week to give him three wins in the first three ARCA races of the year. He got by Kenny Schrader when the veteran driver cut a tire going into turn one on a late re-start.
”The stars are just lining up for us,” said Enfinger. ”It’s pretty unbelievable.”
Enfinger, from Fairhope, Ala., has now won at Daytona International Speedway, Mobile International Speedway and Salem Speedway to start the 2014 season. He is the first ARCA driver since Ramo Stott in 1970 to start the season with three straight wins.
The ARCA Racing Series will race at Talladega Superspeedway on Saturday; the race will be live on Fox Sports 1.
”You just never know what is going to happen at Talladega,” Enfinger said. ”But, we have a great plate program and I know we’ll be fast.”
MSHFA INDUCTION: Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III will be the honorary chairman of the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America’s Induction Ceremony on Aug. 6 at The Fillmore Theater in Detroit.
Chitwood, president of Daytona since 2010, oversees all speedway activities. He is also a member of the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America’s Board of Trustees. His grandfather, historic open-wheel race car driver and legendary showman Joie Chitwood, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010.
In January, it was announced that the Hall of Fame will be relocating to the grounds of Daytona by 2016.